02/06/09 — Kicking off their battle to put an end to cancer

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Kicking off their battle to put an end to cancer

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on February 6, 2009 12:57 PM

Two Wayne County women who overcame the ravages of cancer told their stories at the annual Relay for Life kickoff Thursday night at First Pentecostal Holiness Church.

The annual event will be May 29-30 at Wayne Community College, but supporters are already gearing up to make this year's effort a success. In the past, Relay for Life has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the American Cancer Society, drawing hundreds of people to the overnight campout.

In front of a packed house Thursday, Stephanie Craig and Jennifer Kominsky told their stories of survival.

Mrs. Craig is the honorary adult co-chairman of the Relay. Jennifer is honorary Kids' Walk chairman.

Both had the opportunity Thursday evening to share their survival stories.

Mrs. Craig's health problems began more than 20 years ago while she was pregnant. Her pregnancy was plagued with conditions including toxemia, chronic fatigue and acid reflux.

Then, years later she abruptly lost 30 pounds because she couldn't keep any food or liquids down. The palms of her hands and soles of her feet turned bright red and the skin began to peel off.

After 11 years of illness, an oncologist discovered through tests she had a tumor in her pancreas. A surgeon removed the mass and two-thirds of her spleen.

The lifespan for someone with her rare cancer is not quite five years. She was diagnosed 18 years ago.

A breakthrough in her condition came when the couple went on an eight-day cruise. She was out in the sun and began to feel better than she had in years. When she returned to Goldsboro, she told her doctor about the improvement. Now she takes regular doses of vitamin D, which she says have made her feel like a new person.

"I'm not in remission, but I enjoy every minute of feeling better," she said.

This past Christmas, she cooked a holiday meal for her children and grandchildren -- something she said she hadn't thought she would ever be able to do again.

She still takes 13 shots and 18 pills a day, but said she is happy to be able to get up and move around.

"Life is good," she said.

Jennifer, a student at Southern Wayne High School, was 121/2 when she noticed a lump on her shoulder that began to grow rapidly. She soon learned it was cancer.

Jennifer had a biopsy performed at Duke Children's Hospital.

"I was scared, but I knew I'd get through it," she said. "I had to be there for my dad."

She also had surgery to remove her entire clavicle.

Chemotherapy made her hair fall out so she had to wear bandannas for a while. But her friends and fellow students treated her no differently than before, she said, which was a great comfort. She finished chemotherapy four years ago.

"I hope everyone can have hope like I did," she said. "No one should give up."

Jennifer's message that no one should give up is a sentiment she and Relay co-chairmen hope 2009 participants take to heart.

Debbie Pennell, one of the four relay co-chairmen, encouraged everyone participating to work harder to raise money this year.

"We know this year is going to be a tough year for the Relay with the tough economic situation, but cancer does not stop or slow down or anything and neither can we," she said.

Ethel Barnes, another co-chairman, announced that this year's goal is $700,000. Last year's event raised $728,676.

At the end of the kickoff, four huge luminarias made out of cardboard were lit. Each had a different message on it: Celebrate, remember, fight back and hope.

As they were lit, Ms. Pennell tasked the crowd to remember those who could not be there that evening.

"We will never forget those we have lost," she said. "And we join together in saying that there is no finish line until a cure is found for all."